For the longest time I had the most boring medical history—aside from all the broken brain/mental illness stuff, that is. But looking at more purely physiological stuff, I had decades of time where my doctor’s appointment and annual physicals were as boring as boring could be.
I even managed to escape a lot of the usual medical fatphobia that can emerge in this context because my blood work was always so damn healthy.
Oh, how the worm has turned! During the past year, I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea and (possibly) with pre-diabetes. I’m beginning to feel tendon aches in my elbows*, and, as discussed previously, I’m about to order my first set of bifocals.
And then there’s Veronica.
My journey with Veronica began in mid-July. I had my annual mammogram, and then got a voicemail 5 days later asking me to call the breast health center. I’d never had that happen before, and my immediate thought was pretty much of the “That’s not good” variety. Something irregular had shown up that warranted further testing. So mammo #2 happened 6 days after the first one, and I was advanced to get a core needle biopsy a week after that. I failed that test, too, so I was scheduled to have the abnormal tissue removed and biopsied in early September.
This is when I named her Veronica. I wanted some way to externalize this clump of unhealthy/abnormal cells, and the name emerged rather organically from that desire. I don’t actually know any real Veronicas in my life, so it’s not as if I was directing any bad karma towards an actual being. And, back in the day, I would sometimes jokingly refer to the “girls” as Betty and Bettie**, so using the name of Betty’s nemesis in the Archie comics just kinda made sense to me.
Since I’ve not been complaining about chemo or radiation treatments, you can probably jump ahead in this tale and guess that the biopsy came back clear–which it did. As did the genetic testing I went through in December.
Still, there have been a few moments along the way that have slapped my upside the head as reality checks. First was in the lead-up to September’s procedure, when I’d been told there would be “a small chance” that Veronica could contain cancerous cells. I’d internalized that to mean something like 5%, so imagine my surprise when in my pre-op appointment, my surgeon contextualized those odds as more like 15%-20%. Still a small chance as compared to 100%, but way more of a real chance than I’d been initially thinking.
Then was the moment during December’s genetic testing, when the genetic counselor was going over Veronica’s history thus far. She referred to September’s procedure as a “lumpectomy,” which almost prompted me to speak up and contradict her. But then it dawned on me: “Damn, that IS what I had.”
And this week will be another one of those. Even though I got clean results form these rounds of testing, the sequence of events means I am now a “high risk” for developing breast cancer. If I understand things correctly, I’ll be on a 6-month screening schedule for the rest of my life. The current regimen will be to alternate MRIs and traditional mammograms: intellectually, this makes a lot of sense, because I can see how different screening modalities will give different views on things. Which, I’m assuming, means higher odds of catching anything problematic in the future.
So my first-ever MRI is on Thursday. Based on gossip I’ve picked up along the way, I’m a little nervous about the noise, and a little bit more nervous about the chance of claustrophobia. More than that, this week’s new test is a reminder that, as I get older, receiving a “clean bill of health” is only going to get me so far, and only for so long.
More tests, more monitoring, more equipment, more procedures. That’s my reality.
* Is there such a thing as “computer elbow” in addition to “tennis elbow”? ‘Cos that seems like a legitimate risk from my career.